STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Always hammering and in the mix of top contenders, former U.S. Team skier Michael Ankeny hadn’t found the top step of the World Ski Tour podium in a couple of years. Then he rolled into the third stop in the 2022 series on Saturday, tackling the steepest, most technical course thus far at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs. He was out for blood from the get-go.
“I was definitely on a mission today,” said Ankeny, 31, who had clinched two podiums before the Steamboat Winter Carnival Cup this season, but came in determined to make it beyond the Consolation Round. “I knew if I executed my game plan, I could at least be in the conversation.”
As the third qualifier, Ankeny fired into the Round of 16 under the lights at Howelsen Hill, handily defeating Ben Andrews before taking on Tucker Marshall in the quarter finals. Marshall put up a solid fight, even leading momentarily before Ankeny surged ahead. As he often has, Ankeny faced World Pro Ski Tour leader and 2021 defending champion Rob Cone in the semi-finals, but managed to squeak by in both runs by no more than two tenths of a second.
In the finals, Ankeny squared off against Simon Breitfuss Kammerlander, who had arrived in Steamboat directly from the Beijing Olympics, where he competed in the downhill and super G races for his home country, Bolivia.
In a squirrely display of athleticism, Ankeny charged down the steep course, launching off of the second jump with so much height that he found himself rolling down the windows in mid-air before landing and quickly redirecting his skis to make the next gate. By the final run, he had steadied his technique, clearly crossing the line ahead of Breitfuss Kammerlander for the big win.
“I almost went over the tips there,” Ankeny said of his wild jump. “I love this hill. It’s different than the first two hills we skied, which have their own challenges. Here, you have gravity helping, but it’s much more technical vs. power. I’ve lost a bit of my power since I stopped skiing, but haven’t lost too much of the tactical-technical side, so I was really excited coming back here.”
Notching a handful of World Cup starts during his time racing for the U.S. Team, the 31-year-old Minnesota native and former national junior slalom champion landed a career best 19th place in the Kitzbuhel World Cup slalom in 2016.
Back from the biggest stage of all in Beijing, Kammerlander said he “felt a little drunk,” as the heats went by on Saturday, having just arrived back into the U.S. from the Winter Games on Friday.
“We were around the world completely,” Kammerlander said. “We had to get back from Beijing to Paris, Paris to Atlanta, Atlanta to Denver, so it was a crazy trip. Then it was the 15 hours time difference. I was good this morning until the qualification runs. Later on in the afternoon, I felt so tired, I was just drinking energy drinks. This hill, it’s tough ski racing. I felt so tired. I was not in balance, I was everywhere, back-forth, in-out. For sure, second place was the best for me for today.”
The crazy stunt of the day went to Colorado skier Tanner Perkins as he went up against Kammerlander in the semi-finals. After Kammerlander slipped past him in the first run, Perkins was fighting furiously to make up for lost time and launched so far off of a jump in the second run that he couldn’t correct in time to clear the gate on the landing, crashing directly through two panels and lying on the snow for a couple of seconds before slowly rising.
He still managed to take on Cone in the small final, but couldn’t keep up the fight. Cone rounded out the podium as Perkins took fourth.
World Pro Ski Tour racing continues on Sunday with a second men’s night event at Howelsen Hill.